As the old saying goes: times change, and we change with the times.
Before Isaac came along, our idea of a holiday was something like this: wake up at some ungodly hour; catch a flight across several time zones, leaving us unsure as to whether it is day or night when we land; eat copious amounts for breakfast; skip lunch; cover several miles a day on foot seeing as many things as possible; find a restaurant for dinner; collapse into bed, exhausted; repeat until departure; start planning the next holiday. Washington, New York, Prague, Sydney, New Zealand, California, Canada, Thailand, Rome, Milan, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, to name but a few – we’ve been very fortunate to have travelled all over the world in recent years.
So the idea of a holiday at Center Parcs – from where we have just returned – was a bit alien to us. Stay in one place; do the odd activity here and there but basically chill a lot; gentle strolls through the woodland; sit around reading or playing Scrabble in the evening: the concept was about as far removed from our typical holiday as you could possibly get.
Loved it, though.
I guess that underlines just how much having a baby changes your life.
Whether it was learning basic archery, or playing table tennis with R (R and A and the kids were also there for the week), or taking Zac for a long morning stroll to get him to sleep, or just generally unwinding in the evening with Heather, it was all good. And the soothing benefit of being in a self-contained community, effectively isolated from the outside world (except for the occasional RAF fighter jet thundering overhead), should not be underestimated.
As a new parent, the fact that Center Parcs is so child-friendly was a real weight off our minds. For Zac to be able to zip freely around our villa without there being lots of corners to bump into, wires to pull and general havoc to be wreaked was brilliant for us, and he clearly loved having the run of the place without constantly being dragged away from the TV or being told not to tug at a power lead. Pretty much all the restaurants have big children’s play areas which mean you can actually sit down and enjoy a meal. And then there’s all the organised activities, the big pool, the on-site babysitting service …
To be fair, we only really scratched the surface of what Center Parcs has to offer. Heather had a morning in the spa and did some fencing; I tried my hand at archery (Robin Hood has nothing to worry about), and Zac’s still a bit young to really make the most of all the kids’ facilities and activities (whose number is legion), but he did seem to enjoy swimming (in his usual, stoic, “I’m in public so I’m not going to give anything away” sort of way). And I got to spend an entire morning with him while Heather was at the spa, just walking and playing and doing the whole father/son bonding thing in a way we never have the time to do at home, at least not over such an extended period.
It’s certainly not cheap, once you’ve factored in the cost of activities, eating out and general supplies (the captive audience pricing principle very much applies here), but as a getaway that allows the entire family to enjoy themselves it was well worth it. However, there aren’t lots of staff in red coats running around trying to coax you into playing bingo or some such thing, which was the (admittedly somewhat outdated) mental picture I previously had of ‘holiday villages’.
So, the official Tim rating – only marginally less prestigious than the AA or Michelin – is four stars out of five. (I just wish everything was just a fraction less expensive, and that it wasn’t such a long walk from the car park to our villa, which was practically in the next county.)
Do I miss our globetrotting holidays? Of course I do. But did I enjoy spending an entire week with just the three of us, unencumbered by work deadlines, household chores and the million and one other day-to-day concerns which routinely drag us down? (Just being a family, in other words.)
You betcha. And I’d do it again in the blink of an eye.